Vision & Mission

Vision: A peaceful and just country in which freedom, human and democratic rights of all people are assured.

Mission:To work in partnership with different target groups to educate, mobilize and advocate to build a society of rights conscious citizens and a political culture that enables a political solution to the ethnic conflict and equal opportunities to all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Sri Lanka's internal war and terrorism lasted for three decades and ended in May 2009 with the military defeat of the LTTE.  The overall cost in terms of lives lost, property destroyed, development opportunities foregone, emotional suffering and migration of Sri Lankans is incalculable.  The bitterness and animosity that the last stage of the war caused would be a permanent scar on the inter-ethnic relations unless there is a genuine reconciliation between the government and the Tamil leaders on the one hand and between the ethnic communities on the other.

The Norwegian government's effort to facilitate a peace process in the period 2002-06 was the last attempt to achieve peace through peaceful means. The National Peace Council supported this final effort, and it is our regret that we could not generate a people's movement for peace that would have put pressure on the warring parties not to go back to the battlefield.  It was and remains our conviction that the outcome of peaceful negotiations would have been superior to those of a military solution and would have made a smoother transition to peace while providing a political solution.  If it had succeeded much loss of lives and property would have been avoided.

The several efforts made to end the war through peaceful means were necessary and courageous attempts even though they failed.  The war and terrorism arose out of a long festering ethnic conflict, the roots of which were not adequately addressed, and still have to be addressed even though the war has ended.  The Norwegian-facilitated peace process had the goal of a peaceful solution through negotiations, and even reached a point where the government and LTTE agreed to explore a power sharing solution within a united Sri Lanka.  But we must study the reasons for its failure and seek to apply the lessons from such failure.

The willingness of the Norwegian government to subject its peace initiative to independent scrutiny, even critical scrutiny as in this case, is an example of transparency and openness. Now that the war is over, we urge Norway and the international community to support Sri Lanka to achieve a political solution and post-war development. Members of the international community, including the United States, European Union, India and Japan that were directly involved in the peace process need to continue with their efforts to ensure peace with justice in Sri Lanka. Â

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.


One of the outcomes of the visit to Sri Lanka by the Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has been the resurrection of the concept of “13th Amendment Plus.” Speaking to the media at the conclusion of his visit, the Indian Minister said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had pledged to improve on the devolution of powers presently granted to the provinces in terms of the 13th Amendment.  However, when questioned as to whether the Sri Lankan government had given any commitments regarding this improvement or a time frame in which it would do so, Mr Krishna was constrained to admit that no such undertaking had been given.  It appears that the Sri Lankan government has once again been able to get itself out of a problem.  But this does not mean it is closer to solving the problem.

The Indian government has consistently expressed its interest in a political solution to Tamil grievances.  India has a particular interest in the 13th Amendment, as it was formulated in the aftermath of the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 of which India was the prime architect.  Despite the end of the war more than two and a half years ago, little has been forthcoming so far in terms of an advance towards a political solution that is based on devolution of power.   The Sri Lankan government’s announcement that it is considering a senate or upper house of parliament that would be a bridge between the centre and the provinces may, in fact, be part of a design to offer an alternative to the devolution of power.Â

The undefined and elusive concept of a post-war solution of “13th Amendment Plus” was first articulated by President Rajapaksa during the height of the war in 2008 when there was mounting pressure on his government to reconsider the military option in view of its very high human cost.  On occasion the President seemed to refine the concept further when he said that it would be “13th Amendment Plus One” though little indication was given as to what either the “plus” or the “one” would mean in concrete terms.  In the absence of anything concrete, these concepts were taken to mean a commitment to devolve more power to the provinces than existed at that time.  The LTTE that was waging war against the government did not accept the 13th Amendment at all.Â


Ironically, it was not only the LTTE that found the 13th Amendment to be wanting.  Even politicians who contested provincial council elections and had become chief ministers of provinces have complained bitterly about the shortcomings in its implementation.  A key weakness is the near total dependence of the provincial councils on the central government for finances.  The provincial councils are severely restricted in their power to raise their own funds which has made them hopelessly dependent on the central government.  Another serious weakness has been the existence of a concurrent list of subjects which are shared by the central and provincial administrations.   In practice, where there are such shared powers the central government has had no reservations about monopolizing those powers.Â

In this context the President’s promise of 13th Amendment Plus at the conclusion of the war was an attractive reassurance to those who were concerned about the high human costs of the war.  This promise was most useful to the Indian government in warding off the pressure from its volatile state of Tamil Nadu where there was mass agitation that India was helping the Sri Lankan government to defeat the LTTE.  As the 13th Amendment was designed in terms of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 1987, the promise of 13th Amendment Plus was a vindication of India’s role in the elimination of the LTTE. The presidential promise held out the hope that once the LTTE was out of the picture, there would be no obstacle to the government making the 13th Amendment work successfully by strengthening it where it was weak.Â

However, two and a half years after the elimination of the LTTE the promise of 13th Amendment Plus has not been forthcoming.  On the contrary the appearance is of a reversal, in which the powers of the provinces are being further reduced.  The passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution which centralized even more powers in the presidency has eroded the autonomy and integrity of all other institutions in the country.  In addition, with the elimination of the LTTE, government leaders began to say that no further devolution of powers was necessary. Some have even begun to speak about abolishing the devolution of powers entirely.  There are sections of the government who do not wish to have any institutional obstacles that would prevent them from doing whatever they decide.


Despite the visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister bringing the issue of increasing the devolution of powers to the provinces back to the public debate it is not likely to go beyond that.  During his recent visit to Sri Lanka, Mr Krishna gave support to the Sri Lankan government’s intention to have a Parliamentary Select Committee work out the modalities of a political solution to the ethnic conflict.  The TNA has made a pertinent observation that if they are unable to reach a consensus with the government, it is not likely that they will be able to reach any sort of consensus with the several other political parties in Parliament.    The fate of the All Party Representatives Committee which met 128 times over a four year period and whose final report was never released by the President’s office, does not bode well for the outcome of the Parliamentary Select Committee.

In the light of these circumstances, the prospects for political reform, devolution of power and a political solution to the ethnic conflict in the near future looks dim.   At best these will remain matters for the future that is still far off.  What has been said during the visit of the Indian Minister is in the realm of words and sentiments. The better option for those who seek justice for the war-affected Tamil people, would be to focus on improving their concrete circumstances on the ground.  The primary areas of concern are to improve the livelihood of the war displaced people and their housing conditions. The government needs to be supported by the international community in reconstructing the north and east according to the needs of the people.  The Indian commitment to build 50,000 houses for the war affected population is an exemplary action in this context.

The other area of importance is that of the role of the military in the North and East.  Especially in the north, the military plays a decisive role in day to day matters. Civilians need to feel that military presence in these areas is to support and empower war affected communities and not rule over them but sustain and protect democratic values.   The management and oversight of the military forces will need to be changed if it is to become more acceptable to the people.  The military must be accountable for their actions in the north at least to a body from civil society consisting of people of the area.  Sooner rather than later it is also necessary for the military to return to barracks and the police entrusted with the maintenance of law and order as called for by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.  While the dialogue on political reform must go on, the quality of life of the people as manifested in their day to day affairs must be simultaneously improved.


The visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to Sri Lanka this week comes at an important time.  Several noteworthy events are billed to take place during his visit.  In June 2010, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised that India would donate 50,000 houses to meet the needs of the war affected people in Sri Lanka’s North where the last battles of the war were fought, and which turned much of it into a wasteland.  But so far this promise has been confined to the pilot phase, and only a thousand of these houses are in the process of being built.  

Now there are bigger tasks that have to be taken on. Amongst these are the launching of the second (main) phase of the housing project for the internally displaced persons of the North and the reconstruction of the northern railway to Jaffna.  These projects have been slow to get off the ground and are in contrast to the major infrastructure projects that have been done with Chinese assistance.  

In the meantime the war affected people continue to live in temporary housing, either in their own land or in the homes of relatives.  Similar slow progress has been a feature of other Indian projects that could provide a boost to the country’s economic development.  However, demonstrating the ability to resolve problems ahead of the ministerial visit the two governments agreed to repatriate fishermen held in each other's territory and to also speed up a pact to jointly develop fisheries.

The timing of the Indian visit is also significant to Sri Lanka for another reason.  This is the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that starts on February 27 and continues for most of March.  The Sri Lankan government has a strong interest in ensuring that the issue of alleged war crimes in the last phase of the war is not taken up at this session or at any future session for that matter.  Indian support will be crucial to see that the Sri Lankan government is not taken to the dock.


Although the present government showed itself capable of eliminating the LTTE through military means, it has so far not been able to quell Tamil nationalism through political means.  At the present time the most visible location of this struggle is outside of Sri Lanka where the Tamil Diaspora groups are most active.  The issue of war crimes is their main weapon.  Strengthening this claim is the inability of the Sri Lankan government to make an internationally credible response to the accusation that it is not coming up with a political solution to Tamil grievances. 

The ability of the Tamil Diaspora to obtain invitations to attend the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress in South Africa has been viewed as a serious affront by the Sri Lankan government that boycotted the event.  The willingness of the ruling party in South Africa to give legitimacy to the Tamil Diaspora and its demands is a sign that other countries in the third world might begin thinking on similar lines. The moral influence of South Africa on the world’s conscience due to the enlightened post-apartheid leadership of former President Nelson Mandela cannot be underestimated. 

The Tamil Diaspora’s success can also be seen in the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reiteration that he will boycott the next Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka unless there is progress in Sri Lanka.  A spokesman for the Prime Minister has said that actual change must occur before Canada opens its mind to attending the 2013 summit in Colombo.  While Canada has the largest Tamil Diaspora in the world, its approach can influence other countries with large Tamil Diaspora populations. 

The danger for Sri Lanka is that the South African and Canadian stances might be an example to other countries from both the developing and developed countries when it comes to a vote at the Human Rights Council, if not in March this year then sometime in the future.  The end of the war against the LTTE on the military battlefield has not ended the Tamil nationalist struggle. The visiting Indian External Affairs Minister has expressed the hope for a lasting political solution to the outstanding issues between the Tamils and the government.  This condition might have to be satisfied if Sri Lanka is to continue to count on India’s support. 


So far the most promising response that the government has been able to come up with has been the release of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.  The LLRC exceeded expectations in providing answers to the issues of governance and political reform.  Even the TNA which has made a severe critique of the LLRC report and called for an international investigation into war crimes has stated that some of its recommendations (on issues other than accountability) have positive elements that the TNA itself would support if implemented.  

The Indian government in its own response to the LLRC report said that it had “been assured by the Government of Sri Lanka on several occasions in the past, of its commitment towards pursuit of a political process, through a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance, leading to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and to go beyond, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers and genuine national reconciliation."  More recently the UK government endorsed the recommendations of the LLRC on good governance and a political solution, while expressing disappointment on its findings with respect to accountability for war crimes. 

As an astute politician President Rajapaksa will be aware of the importance of keeping commitments.  During the height of the war, the President boldly promised that his government would go beyond the current limits of the 13th Amendment to “13 Amendment Plus” and he would deliver a political solution within six months of winning the last Presidential Election in November 2009.  Inexperienced politicians may believe that they can promise one thing and deliver another. But a politician with over 40 years of experience, as the President has, will know that the breakdown of trust with the electorate will almost surely guarantee defeat at the next elections.  

In dealing with international governments it is equally if not more important to keep commitments. The international community of governments is not as gullible as the voting public often is. It does not require much reading between the lines of statements issued by the international community, especially India, to understand that the assistance given to win the war came with an understanding.  The understanding was that Sri Lanka would deal justly with the Tamil people and address the roots of the ethnic conflict, which is what the LLRC itself is asking the government to do.  Having won the military battle over Tamil nationalism the government must deal with it politically and soon, through a just and negotiated political solution.


The TNA has yet to issue its follow up response to its initial rejection of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.  In a strongly worded statement the TNA noted that “The report of the LLRC is a serious assault on the dignity of the victims of the war in Sri Lanka, and as such, has not only gravely damaged the chances of genuine reconciliation but has further alienated the victims of the war.” It therefore called on the international community “to acknowledge the consistent failure of domestic accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka and take steps to establish an international mechanism for accountability.”

However, the initial responses of international governments towards the report have been by and large favorable, especially with regard to the many recommendations on governance and on a political solution that would address Tamil grievances. There are many among the international community who are not aware of the past history of Tamil grievances and broken promises.  They are likely to be puzzled by the apparent total rejection of the LLRC report by the TNA.  They are likely to see an excessively demanding attitude asking for too much.  In responding to the LLRC report, the TNA appears to have considered the expectations of its supporters in the Tamil Diaspora as well as its voters.Â

The TNA's rejection of the LLRC report would seem to have arisen from the principal concerns of the Tamil populace it represents to come to terms with what happened during the last phase of the war.  One key factor is the Tamil Diaspora.  Sections of the Diaspora are not reconciled to the defeat of the LTTE and what it means in practice.  The LTTE kept the hope of an independent state of Tamil Eelam alive.  When the military strength of the LTTE was at its height, there was an increased willingness on the part of the Sri Lankan governments that had to deal with it to pay a price for peace.  This included extensive devolution of power and the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Even today the nationalist section of the Tamil Diaspora is able to sway Tamil opinion within Sri Lanka to take positions that were common during the war period.  Their was seen in a statement of several leading civil society figures who critiqued the TNA for not being sufficiently committed to positions such as self determination, Tamil nationhood and the merger of the North and East. This group was critical of US and Indian government positions with regard to accepting the post-war reality of accepting the provincial council framework. This statement titled Public Memo to Members of Parliament representing the Tamil National Alliance from members of Tamil Civil Society and issued on December 13, 2011 originated from the nationalist camp who wish to score one over the TNA.


There is also the pressure from below on the TNA that come from its own voter base in the former war zones of the North and East.  The LLRC report has come as a disappointment to those who experienced the full brunt of the war.  This section of the TNA's constituency had hopes about the LLRC that belied its mandate.  It seems that many victims of the war believed that the LLRC would actually give them immediate solutions to their problems.  The chief amongst these problems are finding out what happened to their loved ones who went missing and being compensated for what they had lost.

The LLRC received a positive response wherever they went.  Most of its sittings were in Colombo where many eminent personalities and well known organisations made presentations before it.  The demand was so high that the LLRC had to restrict the time they gave to many of them, although it made a positive attempt to accommodate all who applied to be heard.  The National Peace Council of which I am a member was one of those civic organisations.  The LLRC gave us a limited time and not all our members could speak.  Some of our members made written representations.  But we left the meeting feeling that we had we had been heard.

The LLRC also had sittings in all of the districts of the North and East where the war was fought.  It was clear that in these areas especially, the demand for the time of the LLRC far outstripped its availability.  In some places like Kilinochchi, where the most decisive battles were fought, there were literally thousands who asked to make their statements.  But only a fraction of them could be accommodated to give evidence before the Commissioners personally.  The others were given the option of making written submissions.

The thousands who sought to give evidence before the LLRC in the North and East did not do so simply to provide it with information for analysis and posterity.  They also wanted their problems solved.  Faced with the absence of any alternate problem-solving governmental mechanism, they were hoping that their detailed evidence would help the LLRC to find out what had actually happened to their loved ones.  They wanted to know if those who were missing were alive or dead, and if alive where they were.  They also wanted to get adequate compensation for their lost property and livelihoods to make a fresh start.


On the other hand, the LLRC's mandate was difficult.  It was not to investigate and find solutions to the problems of individuals.  The LLRC was not equipped with the investigative machinery for this endeavor.  Investigating even a single case of disappearance is a task requiring much effort on the part of investigating officers who have to get the statements from all those possibly implicated in a disappearance.  There is a need to sift evidence and take it before appropriate judicial authorities before a verdict can be given.  This was not a practicable task for the LLRC given that there were thousands of such cases before it.

Sri Lanka has had adequate experience in responding to practical problems arising out of a large scale destruction of property and loss of life in a short space of time, such as the Tsunami of December 2004.  Here the government responded effectively to enable those who were bereft of all their possessions and documentation to speedily reestablish their legal status.  The issuing of documentation in relation to the many who simply disappeared was also done with speed of accommodation.  A similar system could have been adopted in the immediate aftermath of the war to deal with practical problems of the populace, and can still be adapted to give succour to those who have suffered much.  Constructive actions by the government could help the TNA to steer the middle ground as called for by another Tamil civil society group last week.

A statement issued by a prominent group of Tamil civil society leaders recently on January 7, 2012 states that with the end of the war, it has become important for all ethnic communities of Sri Lanka to re-examine and re-evaluate their past.  They have raised the question of the eviction of the Northern Muslims by the LTTE two decades ago.  They stated that “The eviction represents one of the worst instances of the narrow, exclusivist thrust of the Tamil nationalist political campaign of the past thirty years. The failure of our civil and political leadership to understand and acknowledge this has prevented us from dealing with our own past, and with our own moral and political responsibility towards minority communities that live amidst us. An examination of how we have contributed to the polarisation of relations between our two communities has not been forthcoming even after the end of the thirty-year war.”

The call they make to the Tamil community is to “realise at least now that there is no exclusive political solution for the Tamil community, and that the question of political power sharing and equal rights confronts all minority communities.”  This same analysis applies to the larger issues that the Tamil community is confronted with today.   In the context of this civil society appeal, there is a need for the political representatives of the Tamil people, most importantly, the TNA, to reconsider their initial outright rejection of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.  The report of the LLRC would count as amongst the most important official and public documents that investigates and analyses the causes of the ethnic conflict and problems of governance in the country.


The main political representatives of the Tamil people, the MPs of the Tamil National Alliance, have been under pressure from the government which frequently refers to them as the “LTTE rump.”  During the latter period of the three decade long war, the LTTE was able to persuade the TNA politicians to fall in line with their position that the LTTE was the sole representatives of the Tamil people.  Prior to this capitulation, several leading politicians from constituent Tamil parties had been assassinated by the LTTE, leaving those who survived with little alternative option.  Some either joined the government or stopped criticizing the government in order to obtain government security to protect their lives. Those who preferred to remain independent of the government made the choice of falling in line with the LTTE.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is one of the government leaders who frequently refers to the TNA as holding on to LTTE positions.  He has appealed those perceived as being influential in regard to the LTTE, such as the Indian media, to convince the TNA to be reasonable and to discuss how to resolve the problems of the Tamil people with the government.  There is a section of the government that sees the TNA as being unreasonable in continuing to insist on old positions held by the LTTE, such as the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.  But the LTTE also held on to the notion of an independent Tamil state and sought to achieve it through violent means.  By way of contrast the TNA has been the victim of violence by all sides and holds to the ideal of a federal Sri Lanka, which fall short of independence.

The situation that the TNA finds itself in today is not enviable.  The TNA is not only under pressure from the government.  It is also under pressure from the Tamil people who voted for it by large majorities in the areas in which Tamils predominate. The majority of those who voted for the TNA would be amongst the worst off in Sri Lankan society.  They lived in the midst of war that despoiled the North and East of the country for nearly three decades.  Only few of them were unscathed by the disaster that unfolded during that long period.  Invariably the war entered their lives, either by collateral damage, having their children forcibly recruited or being forced to flee from one place to the other.

Even today more than 100,000 Tamil people live displaced and outside of their homes, either with relatives or in transit camps awaiting relocation to their home areas.  They would be seeing the peace dividend in the form of government buildings that are coming up and roads being repaired and tourists from the rest of the country traveling along them.  But unfortunately for most of them these developments remain outside of their reach, as those contractors who build the government buildings and roads come from outside the North and East for the most part, and bring their own labourers with them.  Even the tea kiosks by the side of the road are manned by army personnel which means that the people who could have done that small scale enterprise are denied that opportunity as well.


So far the TNA has failed to persuade the government to deliver more resources to the people of the North and East.  In a democratic polity where politicians need votes of people to remain in power, it is inevitable that governments in power would prefer to allocate scarce economic resources to those who will vote for them.  As the TNA does not support the government and instead engages in confrontational politics with it, the government is not inclined to be responsive to the needs of people who vote for the TNA.  This keeps in motion a vicious cycle of neglect and hatred that is not good either for reconciliation in the country or for the people in the North and East.

As the political representatives of the war-affected Tamil people, the TNA has to consider engaging in politics that helps the people rather than leads to their neglect.  On the one hand, it is important for the TNA to keep the aspirations of the Tamil people in mind. It is also important that the basic needs of the people are also met so that lead a normal life in which there is material progress for themselves and their children.  The TNA needs to reconsider their apparent policy of total confrontation with the government at all levels.   As a beginning in the process of reconciliation with the government, the TNA could reconsider their strong rejection of the final report submitted by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to the President.

The report of the LLRC would count as amongst the most important public documents that investigates and analyses the causes of the ethnic conflict and problems of governance in the country. However, the TNA’s preliminary statement on it echoed that of international human rights organizations which strongly critiqued and rejected the LLRC report.  Earlier they had found fault with the composition of the LLRC and now they found it wanting in terms of international humanitarian law.  However, the TNA is not an international human rights organization but a political party.  Politics has been defined by those skilled in the profession as the art of the possible.


The TNA’s preliminary statement rejecting the LLRC report focused on its failure in holding the government accountable for human rights violations and war crimes and for attempting to pass them on to the failures of individual soldiers.  It stated that “The LLRC report categorically fails to effectively and meaningfully deal with issues of accountability.”  The TNA statement did not consider the LLRC’s analysis of the causes of the conflict and its prescriptions for the resolution of the conflict.  What the LLRC had set out in terms of good governance practices and a political solution was not new, and has been stated by the more liberal and thoughtful politicians and civil society groups on numerous occasions before.  But what was special this time was that the LLRC was appointed by President Rajapaka whose government has taken a diametrically opposed position on almost all of the issues addressed.

The government’s decision to make the LLRC report public could be due to a variety of reasons.  In the case of previous commissions of inquiry that seemed to come up with inconvenient truths, the government either stopped them three-quarter way or suppressed their findings, as in the case of the report of the All Party Representatives Conference on a political solution.  On this occasion there was considerable international pressure on the government to come out with the report, as the government itself held out that the LLRC report would provide the answer to international allegations of war crimes in the last phase of the war.  This is an opportunity to be taken and not rejected.  Although the TNA may find fault with how the LLRC addressed the issue of accountability, its analysis of the conflict and its prescriptions have much to commend in them.

As the third largest political party within Parliament and the largest Tamil one, the TNA needs to consider joining hands with the other political parties and with like-minded civil society organizations to ensure that the LLRC recommendations are implemented.  While the government has given the impression that it accepts the LLRC report, its decision making circles may believe it is not in their interests to implement the recommendations any time soon.  The LLRC’s vision is that of a plural and multi ethnic society in which there is the rule of law and checks and balances on unbridled power.  As a result it is possible that the government leadership will prefer to drag their feet when it comes to implementing the recommendations of the report.  It is important that the Tamil polity become a vibrant one that is integrated into the larger national polity.  It is in the larger national interest that the LLRC recommendations be implemented.


The 388 page report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appears to be earning more bouquets than brickbats.  Even one of the government’s foremost critics, the International Crisis Group, has noted its positive contribution to affirming principles of good governance and a political solution to the ethnic conflict. However, it has expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Commission’s findings on accountability.  ICG was one of a trio of international human rights NGOs that were invited to make representations before the LLRC but refused to do so.  They found fundamental flaws in the composition of the Commission, which consisted mostly of former government officials, and also in its mandate, which was too restrictive in terms of investigating human rights violations.

The two other international human rights organizations have also commented on the LLRC.  Together with ICG, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have taken a common position that there continues to be a need for an independent international investigation into the issues of human rights violations and war crimes.  So far, the response of international governments has been rather muted.  The United States government which, has been one of the first foreign governments to respond, has said there are gaps in the LLRC report.  The US has also noted that the Commission has addressed a number of the crucial areas of concern to Sri Lankans, in particular in the areas of reconciliation, devolution of authority, demilitarization, rule of law, media freedom, disappearances, and human rights violations.

With regard to an independent international inquiry the US State Department spokesperson has expressed the view that “it is better for Sri Lankans to take these issues themselves and address them fully. That remains our position, so now we want to see if the Sri Lankan Government will lead their country in the next step to ensure that there is full implementation of the recommendations that we have and filling in of the gaps.”  When pressed to the wall either by terrorism (as in the World Trade Centre attack in New York) or by their compelling geopolitical interests (as in Libya) international governments have not hesitated from resorting to drastic and violent measures that result in collateral damage to civilians. 

Governments operate within the realm of the possible, while NGOs express the ideal and seek to push governments in that direction. The Sri Lankan media recently carried a news item citing Norwegian Defence Minister Espen Barth Eide, responding to a New York Times (NYT) exclusive that it had obtained evidence to prove the NATO air campaign in Libya claimed the lives of civilians. He emphasized that Norway’s aim was to operate within International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The minister was reported to have declared that it was wrong to assert IHL was violated because of civilian losses unless something unacceptable took place during a conflict. This is also the point of dispute where the Sri Lankan government has been at loggerheads with a section of the international community.


The Sri Lankan government’s initial reaction to the LLRC report was positive.  Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva who presented the report to Parliament on November 16 said that it is of great importance to the government to have the truth relating to the death of civilians in the last phase of the war established in a manner that puts the controversy to an end for all time.  He also said that the government has asserted on many occasions that if reliable evidence was available the law of the land would be set in motion.  However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not yet commented on the report.  The LLRC itself has noted that recommendations made by previous commissions of inquiry had not been implemented. The failure of the government to implement even the LLRC’s own interim recommendations in a conclusive manner had led to an exacerbation of the problem of credibility. The challenge is to ensure that there will be governmental follow up to the final recommendations of the Commission. 

The Commission has accepted the government’s position that military operations were conducted with the highest priority being given to issues of civilian safety. At the same time it has also found evidence of violations of international law in the conduct of military operations in several instances and has asked that these incidents be inquired into.  However, apart from piecemeal investigations into individual incidents that could be done fairly soon, there is also the need for a comprehensive accounting of the past that could take a longer period of time.  A Truth and Reconciliation Commission to go more deeply into the entire tragedy of the war could be a longer term mechanism to ensure that victims are heard, their grievances addressed, compensation given and perpetrators identified and provided with an opportunity for repentance and amnesty.

Practically the possibility of a full accounting of what happened in the whole course of our thirty year war would only come when the government is headed by those who had nothing to do with the war.  This is the experience internationally as well where internal processes for accountability and truth seeking are concerned.  If Sri Lanka hopes to gain its place amongst the respected countries in the world with regard to the practice of human rights in the future, the government is obliged to hold individual members of its armed forces and government members accountable for their violations even if justifications are available and provisions for amnesty are made available. The experience of other countries is that such an accounting usually takes decades and more.  


The LLRC report deals with much more than the killings and disappearances that took place during the war.  It also deals with issues of governance that have contributed to the loss of confidence of people in democratic institutions and induced them to violence.  The centralization of power, and disregard for the rule of law, has reached an apogee with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution with abuse of power and corruption also reaching high levels. Among its many recommendations, the LLRC has advocated the removal of the police department from the Ministry of Defence.  It has also recommended that the police be placed under an independent commission. This refers back to the practice under the 17th amendment which was effectively repealed by the 18th amendment which further concentrated power inadvisedly in the Presidency. 

The experience of other countries in which there are conflicts between ethnic communities shows that these problems have to be consciously dealt with.  The problem is that governments that are in a dominant position seldom see a need for reform. It is on the issue of a political solution that would address Tamil grievances that the LLRC has made its most commendable stand which places it in a different frame of thought as compared to what the present government leadership in particular has been asserting.  But without such reform there cannot be lasting peace as the LLRC report implies.  The report of the All Party Representatives Conference headed by Prof. Tissa Vitarana which was submitted to the President last year would be a suitable starting point in finding a political solution. Unfortunately this report which was over two years and over a hundred meetings in the making has still not been released to the public by the President who appointed the committee. 

Such an action can dispel concerns that the LLRC report will suffer the same fate of countless other commission reports and fail to be implemented.  Although the government has won itself a breathing space from the international community due to the LLRC report, it cannot rest on its laurels.  The Tamil political parties remain deeply skeptical of the government.  The Tamil people who were the victims of the war are concerned that the report will make no quick difference to their lives.  The government’s New Year resolution needs to be to undertake reform and reconciliation with a sense of urgency in the coming year itself, and not leave it for the succeeding years or the next government.  As a follow up to the Commission report the government would do well to appoint a Presidential Task Force of independent persons selected with the concurrence of the opposition to oversee the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.